Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Grammar is my Achilles Heel

What do you do when…?

 What do you do when a student needs help with something you are awful at?

This is a challenge I face every time a student comes to me with questions about grammar. I am awful at grammar. I can still see the bright red “30%” written on the top of my grammar tests in the eighth grade (if that wasn’t reason enough to retire the red grading pens!) Somehow, I managed to pass eighth grade English Composition, and I have lived in terror of grammar ever since. Logically, I know I must know something. I couldn’t have fooled everyone on the way to my BA (in English!), MA, and JD. But that doesn’t help the nagging fear that I am a fraud, just one question about dangling participles away from being exposed.*

Everyone has that one thing that still scares them, that area of law they never understood, that critical skill they never grasped. Yet we all managed to graduate and become successful ASP professionals despite our failures and misapprehensions. But an Achilles heel also has the ability to turn a seasoned professional into a defensive amateur. If you are not secure about your skills, it’s easy to allow an angry student to make you feel as if you are not qualified to help them.

I have turned my Achilles heel into a teaching exercise. I own up to my weakness; my office is filled with books on grammar, style, and legal writing. I have the hardcover, illustrated edition of Strunk and White on my desk. I help the student research the answer to their grammar problem.

I may not have the answer to their grammar problem, but I feel I am teaching them a far greater lesson in admitting when to seek help.

Rebecca Flanagan

*After I wrote this entry, I noticed an article in the New York Times on feeling like a fraud...very interesting stuff! "Feeling Like Fraud? Sometimes, Maybe You Should" by Benedict Carey, Feb. 5, 2007


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